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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Brenda Tapia, February 2, 2001. Interview K-0476. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Desegregation damages the black community

Desegregation was a disaster for the African American community, Tapia believes. It changed the law but not attitudes, nurtured ignorance and self-hatred among African Americans, and forced upon them white standards of success. Tapia sees its ill effects in her sister, who is struggling after years of being ignored, and in the crowds of black men gathering on street corners.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Brenda Tapia, February 2, 2001. Interview K-0476. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

What in general do you think desegregation accomplished?
You know, I know that people who are older thought that that was the answer, that that was one way we might get a fair shot at experiencing the American Dream and getting our piece of the pie. If you want my honest opinion, I think that integration was one of the worst things that could've been done to us. I think it would've been more loving, more compassionate, if they just all, injected us all with advanced AIDS, and let us die, because I see more negative repercussions for us than I feel positive strides. First of all, the playing field has never been level. When the Civil Rights Movement changed the laws, but it did nothing, and laws aren't supposed to, but nothing was done to change attitudes and hearts, so we're really not that much better off than when we were before the Civil Rights Movement. A few Blacks were able to advance, but even those few that were able to get through the door and advance, there was a glass ceiling for them. The majority, the masses of our people, nothing's changed for them. It's just like the Depression, I used to hear my grandparents talking about not knowing when the Depression was because they were so poor already: "The Depression, what was that?" You know, it was just another day for them, but for people who had something it was a bad time. And, for what the masses of Black people have gained through segregation, umm, it just, I don't think it was worth it. I see our students being totally out of touch now with their own history and culture, I see the self-hatred that they've developed and don't even realize. It bothers me now that I hear so many Black students who consider being intelligent and smart White, not thinking about what that implies: "If that's White, then what is Black?" Because they're making a statement about what it means to be Black, if when you're using appropriate English, if when you're using standard English, if you're really … striving academically, for peers to consider that you're acting White. No, you're acting like an intelligent human being. But things like that just bother me. I think we've really lost more than we've gained.
And you mentioned you had a sister who also went to North Meck?
I have two sisters, one is five-and-a-half years younger than me, and one is eleven. The one five-and-a-half went to North, in fact she started integrating schools, she was in the second grade the year I was going to the eleventh. So she has pretty much been in all White schools all of her life. Totally out of touch with her culture and her heritage, and never had the opportunity. I see a lot of the problems she's having now as having now as an adult as a reflection of that because she has no self-esteem. In fact, she has a physical ailment now that in medical circles is considered a victim's disease, people who feel victimized. And not only did she go to school with predominantly White schools and colleges, but then she went into a very rich White environment to teach school, and could never understand why suggestions she made were never accepted, I mean she went through this. And, like I see some Black students here, things happen to them and they take it personally. Because if you don't have someone correcting your viewpoint and giving you the real perspective of what's going on, it's very easy to think that: "It's me," when: "No it's not you." It's not always you; many times it's the system or environment that you're in. So I think that I can definitely see where desegregation really affected her. She didn't get to experience ten years of being - feeling loved, supported, being cared about, being touched, being seen. She spent most of her life invisible, and I see her in many ways going overboard, to quote: "Be seen." I don't have that need as greatly as she has it. My younger sister didn't even get to finish school here because of what was going on. The middle school here in Huntersville, Alexander, before you go to North, the problems that they were having there between the races were so bad, and this is like - right now, it's very calming to have police. In fact schools have their own security system and their officers often wear uniforms. When I was coming along, it was not the case. So it was very unusual to have police at your school every day. And so by the time she was ready to go to Alexander, police were almost a permanent picture there. I used to call, well not really until I came back here to start Love of Learning, I realized, Alexander was what I call a gatekeeper school. Until about the fourth year of Love of Learning, I didn't think Alexander offered anything in terms of math, other than basic, basic, advanced basic, or general basic - basic, and advanced basic math, because that's all I saw on Black kids report cards. It wasn't until I was - the chaplain was complaining about the difficulty his daughter was having with geometry, and I said: "I thought your daughter was in middle school?" And he said: "She is." I said. "You mean they have Geometry at Alexander?" He said: "Yeah, they've always had Geometry at Alexander." I said: "Oh, I thought they just had basic, and advanced basic math and pre-basic math." Because that was all I was seeing on Black kids report cards, and then I realized that's what they were being offered. And when you follow that type of math schedule in junior high school, there's no way you're going to be ready for college by the twelfth grade. So rather than saying to you what my guidance counselor at North, said to me when I walked in to ask him for a catalog to Howard, he said: "Howard University, I never heard of it. But besides, you people don't need to go to college anyway. Now I got a friend down at Howard and Johnson's in Charlotte, I can get you a job in housekeeping. You folks don't need to waste your time going to college." So rather than having to be ignorant enough to say that, you can subtly do that by controlling the track the child is in and what courses they take. Which is what they do in Alexander, besides the verbal harassment, which if you were to take a drive now around Davidson and Cornelius, you would see a lot of Black men my age group and below, who are just standing on the corner. They're just alcoholics going nowhere. I can't completely blame their situation on Alexander, but that's sure where it started. Many of those men never finished high school. They didn't have sense enough to realize the game that was being run on them, and they embraced being put out of school. If our schools had been left open, it's quite likely that instead of those men standing on the corner, they'd have businesses on the corner. It's important to me that we try to supplement what [de]segregation has done, and that's why the emphasis of the program in one ear, is one Black History and culture. And our mission statement makes it clear: I seek to help students realize who they are and whose they are, enabling them and empowering them to become successful and productive world citizens. If you don't know who you are and where you're going, and where you come from, it's very difficult for you to know how to get where you're going to go anywhere. It's very interesting to me that now I graduated in 1967, not much has changed in Charlotte Mecklenburg in those years. The racism is even more blatant now. I have students every year, coming in at the beginning of the year - I work with secondary students, grades nine through twelve. And I get stories about how they walk into class on the first day and their teacher will say stuff like: "Yes, may I help you?" And the student will look at their card and go: "Advanced Chemistry, 06 Preyer, umm, no thank-you," and the teacher will say: "Let me see your class card." And then the student will notice at the end of the class, other students coming in are not treated that way, student looks around: "Oh, I'm the only Black person here, so evidently they thought I was in the wrong place because it was an Advanced Chemistry class." Or students raising their hands: "Yes what do you want, you're asking another question?" Another child who is not of that race: "Yes Mary, Tommy, do you have another question?" You know, that's blatant, so it's just a shame it hasn't changed.